One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
Hardcover, First Edition, 321 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Harper Collins (first published 2012)
ISBN 0062065246 (ISBN13: 9780062065247)
Louise Erdrich is one of the most gifted, prolific, and challenging of contemporary Native American novelists. Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, she grew up mostly in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Her fiction reflects aspects of her mixed heritage: German through her father, and French and Ojibwa through her mother. She worked at various jobs, such as hoeing sugar beets, farm work, waitressing, short order cooking, lifeguarding, and construction work, before becoming a writer. She attended the Johns Hopkins creative writing program and received fellowships at the McDowell Colony and the Yaddo Colony. After she was named writer-in-residence at Dartmouth, she married professor Michael Dorris and raised several children, some of them adopted. She and Michael became a picture-book husband-and-wife writing team, though they wrote only one truly collaborative novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991).
The Antelope Wife was published in 1998, not long after her separation from Michael and his subsequent suicide. Some reviewers believed they saw in The Antelope Wife the anguish Erdrich must have felt as her marriage crumbled, but she has stated that she is unconscious of having mirrored any real-life events.
She is the author of four previous bestselling and award-winning novels, including Love Medicine; The Beet Queen; Tracks; and The Bingo Palace. She also has written two collections of poetry, Jacklight, and Baptism of Desire. Her fiction has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle (1984) and The Los Angeles Times (1985), and has been translated into fourteen languages.
Several of her short stories have been selected for O. Henry awards and for inclusion in the annual Best American Short Story anthologies. The Blue Jay's Dance, a memoir of motherhood, was her first nonfiction work, and her children's book, Grandmother's Pigeon, has been published by Hyperion Press. She lives in Minnesota with her children, who help her run a small independent bookstore called The Birchbark.
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Small trees had attacked my parents' house at the foundation. They were just seedlings with one or two rigid, healthy leaves. Nevertheless, the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks. They had grown into the unseen wall and it was difficult to pry them loose. My father wiped his palm across his forehead and damned their toughness.On a reservation in North Dakota, a woman is brutally raped and beaten and nearly killed, but escapes her attacker. What follows throughout this story is a sorting-out, a coming-to-terms, and a desire for justice.
The story is narrated by Joe Coutts, a courageous thirteen-year-old Ojibwe boy living on the reservation. His family is “wealthy” by reservation standards, with a nice, but modest, home and plenty to eat. His father Antone is a tribal judge, and his mother Geraldine is something of a tribal genealogist-- it’s her job to keep track of family lines and name changes and the like.
Geraldine is the woman raped at the beginning of the story, and her son Joe must deal with the feelings this rouses in him, and must attempt, along with his father, to repair their fractured family.
The family is supported by Geraldine's sister Clemence, who lives nearby with their father Mooshum (Joe's grandfather), and her husband Edward. Also Geraldine and Clemence's brother Whitey lives on the reservation, and along with ex-stripper Sonja he runs a gas station on the reservation.
Joe is further supported by his group of friends. Cappy Lafournais is his loyal best friend, and like a brother to him. Zack and cousin Angus round out the group (Angus lives in abject poverty on the res, and it isn't uncommon to see him sporting a black eye or bruised cheek.)
This story shines a spotlight on the inability to prosecute many crimes committed against Native Americans, due to the convoluted maze of laws in regard to Natives, reservation grounds vs. non-reservation property, and who is even considered to be Native American (which has turned into a complicated formula of what percent you are this or that.)
The author points out in her Afterword some statistics she pulled from the 2009 Amnesty International report “Maze of Injustice”:
1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape); 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted.One thing I had difficulty with at times is the author's writing style. At times it is very clipped and staccato, which is always a bit of a put-off for me. And the dialogue doesn’t use quotations, which I always find a bit confusing, as it makes it difficult for me to discern dialogue from thought from narrative. But she definitely has a way with words, and at times I felt my mind say, "Oh!" at the way she expressed something.
Every night, Sonja gave me a pillow off her bed. The pillow smelled of apricot shampoo and also a dusky overtone-- some private erotic decay like the inside of a wilted flower. I buried my face to breathe it in. (p. 168)
The Creator made us for each other. Me here. Zelia there. Space was put between us by human error. But our hearts listened to divine will. Our bodies, too. (p. 312)Overall I found it to be a powerful story, original and unembellished.
My final word: Part mystery and part family drama, it’s a tragic story, rife with poverty, abuse, alcoholism, death. But overshadowing it all is a sense of hope, of a people who hold a fragile grasp on all of the good that life has to offer, who suck the marrow from life. There is hope in this young boy Joe.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour! Check out the website for the full tour schedule:
Tuesday, September 24th: Lavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, September 25th: she treads softly
Thursday, September 26th: The Lost Entwife
Monday, September 30th: Book-alicious Mama
Tuesday, October 1st: BoundbyWords
Wednesday, October 2nd: Booksie’s Blog
Thursday, October 3rd: Books Speak Volumes
Monday, October 7th: red headed book child
Tuesday, October 8th: The Blog of Lit Wits
Wednesday, October 9th: Lit and Life
Monday, October 14th: Dolce Bellezza
Tuesday, October 15th: guiltless reading
Wednesday, October 17th: Lectus
Monday, October 21st: Becca’s Byline
Tuesday, October 22nd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, October 23rd: Turn the Page
Thursday, October 24th: Book Snob
Friday, October 25th: Book Addict Katie
Barnes and Noble
Writing Style: B
My Rating: A-
I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.